The American Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.
The terrain of Linda Bomes face reveals a rollicking sense of fun, a calm connection to the earth, and the wisdom of a Cherokee elder, although she is still much too young for the job, and yet to discover the range of her experience is to reveal a remarkable woman with an unusual skill set: a National Weather Service storm spotter, an ex-juvenile probation officer, an ex-EMT, competent in hand-to-hand combat, a CERT instructor, an MP for the TN Guard, as well as a thirty-five year veteran volunteer for the Mid-South Red Cross and this month’s Volunteer of the Month.
“I was recruited for Disaster Services in June of 1979 while taking a first-aid/CPR class. Back then it was an all male group that volunteered, and I became the first female to join them,” she says.
“First female” suggests strength of character that becomes fully blown in her penetrating eyes, and in her voice, too, when she speaks about either the Red Cross or her Cherokee heritage. She nods gently from east to west as her conversation moves from one group to the other and up and down as she explains her sense of obligation to relieve suffering. She carries with her the advice from her Cherokee elder to “stay on the red road.” “The red road” is the good path, an expression born on the American Indian medicine wheel (imagine a circle representing the circle of life, cut into quarters, each with its own color and significance, where red is the “good” quadrant).
Altruism is likely present in her genes and then nurtured by her environment. Linda’s father and brother were fire fighters, and her mother was a nurse at Baptist hospital. The Cherokee part of the equation comes from her mother and is as essential to her as her breath. She travels to American Indian Pow-wows, dances American Indian dances, makes American Indian crafts and beadwork, and plays the native flute. Perhaps most importantly, she identifies with the Indian obligation to care for the earth and all its inhabitants. “We believe everything is in a circle. You are born, you live, you die, and you are reborn. They say you are at peace; you’re where things should be, how things should be . . . We learn these things from our elders. The elders are there for anyone who wants to learn, who seeks wisdom.”
Linda’s commitment to the Red Cross arises out of her passion to use her considerable emergency response skills and knowledge. She chose to volunteer at the RC because “The Red Cross does more” and so gives her an in-kind opportunity. Her work ethic is notable. This week she is on fire call from 5:00 pm until 8:30 am every night. When a fire call comes in, she calls the client to say, “I am on the way.” Sometimes she gets another fire call on the way home, and she answers that one too. “ Action matters,” Linda insists, “it takes one person to change a life.”
Linda considers herself “old school” Red Cross. She remembers a long ago RC slogan: “Help can’t wait.” “Disasters don’t run on a schedule,” she says, “but it takes a special breed of person to get up at all hours, in all kinds of weather. She also remembers a Red Cross television advertisement in the 70’s that used the Simon and Garfunkel’s song Bridge Over Troubled Waters as its theme. She sees herself as that bridge. “Did you ever listen to the words of that song?” she asks. “When disaster strikes, people don’t know what to do. As a Red Cross volunteer, you become their guide. You say, ‘I will help you.’’’ Sometimes that means giving money, clothes, a place to stay, always it means giving support: “I start with both reins in my hands and then I hand one to the client. Sharing and caring, that’s the Red Cross way.”
She tells the story of a devastated RC client she met after this year’s Oklahoma tornadoes to illustrate:
There was a lady and her husband whose house was wiped out. She didn’t want to talk about what happened. She was very upset, distraught, and she closed up. The mental health people were there and they tried to get her to open up. So I put my arm around her and brought in my native ways. I told her ‘Grandfather’ has blessed you: you are alive, your family is alive. You are a mother. You are the strong one. It is your strength that your family needs, but even the strong need help sometimes. She broke down and cried and then started talking about what happened.
The mental health person was right there, and Linda connected the two.
Linda insists, however, that even dire circumstances need an element of fun. Sometimes she will talk to children using the ERV speaker to get them to smile, or she will help a client to smile despite their situation. She also respects her own need for down time. For Linda that means Animal Planet and maybe some Indian Fry Bread, a comfort in trouble and in celebration.
Linda’s Indian Fry Bread
Mix flour, warm water, and baking powder until it looks like pie dough. Make balls, stretch them out into circles and deep fry, 15 sec per side. Dust with powered sugar or use as a base for Indian tacos. Delicious.
Story Credit: Kathleen Bradley/American Red Cross